MarchFourth Marching Band: Magnificent Beast (Self-Released)

Is there not something sublime about the best marching bands? Without irony, they deliver joyful melodies, inventive charts and the natural power of amassed brass—and for the last decade or so, Portland, Ore.'s MarchFourth Marching Band has taken the marching-band format in exciting new directions. Guided by producer Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos), MarchFourth has made its most-ambitious album yet, and the breadth is truly amazing.

"Sin Camiseta" is smoky Latin jazz. The psychedelic and rubbery groove of "Cowbell" pokes fun at the notorious percussion instrument while giving it the spotlight. The band brings jazz to Bollywood on "Delhi Belly," and "Rose City Strut" covers both the waterfront and the French Quarter, with help from members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

One of the best cuts is "The Finger," which starts out with a sound-bed of Philip Glass-style minimalism, and adds a nastily stomping funk beat and blasts of pure-pleasure brass before gang vocals intone, "Oh yeah, feeling alive." That song is actually the first jab in a one-two punch that finishes off with the booty-shaking groove of "Git It All," a cover of a tune by the 1970s progressive-funk outfit Mandrill.

Even amid all this diversity, the bouncy ska number "Soldiers of the Mind" sounds a little forced, although it would probably sound great in a different context.

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